Cumberland Times-News

September 17, 2013

Evidentiary hearing planned Oct. 4 in Hampshire water/sewer rate increase

Associated Press

— ROMNEY, W.Va. — The city of Romney and Central Hampshire Public Service District officials will go back to Charleston on Oct. 4 for a full Public Service Commission hearing to determine the fate of an increased water and sewer rate.

An evidentiary hearing has been requested by the state PSC, which means all evidence pertaining to the case is to be compiled, witness testimony will be heard and a history transcript will be put together for the commission for the October hearing.

Last week, officials from both entities appeared at the PSC for mediation to settle a rate dispute without success.

William Rohrbaugh, a Martinsburg attorney for CHPSD, said offers were made back and forth. “We didn’t reach an agreement,” he said.

A complaint issued by CHPSD Dec. 13, 2012, to the state claimed that Romney raised its rate from 48 cents per thousand gallons for sewage treatment services to $10.80 per thousand gallons, an increase of 2,227 percent.

In addition to the $10.80 preproject rate, Romney asked for $14.75 post-project rate.

Cathe Moreland, attorney for the city of Romney, said the short-time rate of 48 cents was far below the cost of service to CHPSD, which they acknowledged at the time.

The issue goes back to the interconnector project in 2009.

The city put its phase two project, the construction of a waste water treatment plant, on hold in order to accommodate the interconnector moving forward, which officials said was important to the economy of the area in that it was tied directly to construction of Hampshire Memorial Hospital.

Last week, the PSC recommended $3.93 as a current rate and $7.02 per thousand gallons as a post-project rate.

Prior to last week’s meeting, the city, PSC and CHPSD prepared a cost of service study in order to go forward with the negotiations.

All three, said Moreland, “did their own cost of service study, which means an accounting firm analysis was prepared.”

Moreland said all costs, expenses and income from all classes of customers were accumulated and analyzed.

After all the statistics were accumulated, each of the three entities shared the information.   

In what is called a rebuttal testimony filed with the PSC, the city of Romney agreed to the PSC’s recommendation.

CHPSD did not agree.

Rohrbaugh maintains that CHPSD should not have to pay for inflow and infiltration at the city treatment plant, which is not a part of the district’s system.

“Romney has a serious problem with INI. Fifty-eight percent of the bill is INI. Romney bills 59 million gallons and treats 141 million gallons a year,” Rohrbaugh said.

“It looks like they are draining surface water through the sanitary sewer system.”

However, according to city officials, the storm water system is totally separate from the sanitary system.

Rohrbaugh said CHPSD’s calculation taking the INI out would be $2.59 per gallon as a current rate and $4.60 as a post-project rate.

Moreland said there is a long line of cases on how to deal with INI and she was sure the PSC would take them into consideration.

In the meantime, Eileen Johnson, city of Romney administrator, said, “Rate payers in Romney continue to be responsible to subsidize CHPSD.”

Johnson said the city has complied with every aspect put forth from the PSC.

She said CHPSD canceled two scheduled meetings, one in May and the second in June, for negotiations with the city to discuss rates.